Chinese exonyms

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When a foreign placename occurs in Chinese text, the problem arises of spelling it in Chinese characters, given the limited phonetics of Mandarin Chinese, and the possible meaning of those characters when treated as Chinese words. For example:

  • "London Heathrow Airport" is usually rendered in Chinese text as 倫敦希斯路機場 (Lúndūn Xīsīlù Jīchǎng), with the English pronunciation of 'London' fairly accurate, and of 'Heathrow' less accurate: literally as Chinese this means "kinship, honest" (for London), "hope/rare, given/this, road" (for Heathrow), "aircraft, field", with the last syllable of "Heathrow" rendered as "lu" although the more accurate "lo" and "lou" are known Chinese words. However, the Cantonese pronunciation of 希斯路 (Hei1si1lou6) is much closer to "Heathrow".

Names of foreign nations are sometimes shortened to their first character when used in compounds.

For placenames in Korea or Japan, the Chinese exonym is often the Chinese pronunciation of the hanja or kanji writing of the placename. In some cases, especially in Japan, the Chinese pronunciation may be completely unlike the native-language pronunciation.

Places[edit]

Native name Chinese Pinyin Transcription? Meaning Country Notes
California 加州 Jiāzhōu Yes N/A United States contraction from 加利福尼亞州, Cantonese Gaa3lei6fuk1nei4aa3, Mandarin Chinese Pinyin Jiālìfúníyǎ zhōu
Hiroshima (広島) 廣島 Guǎngdǎo No Broad Island Japan
Hong Kong 香港 Xiānggǎng No perfume/incense, harbour "Hong Kong" is from Cantonese Hoeng1gong2
Liverpool 利物浦 Lìwùpǔ Yes N/A United Kingdom
Los Angeles 洛杉矶 Luòshānjī Yes N/A United States
Osaka (大阪) 大坂 Dàbǎn No Big Hillside Japan
Oxford 牛津 Niújīn No Where the ox ford United Kingdom
Phoenix 鳳凰城 Fènghuángchéng No Fenghuang city United States the fenghuang is analogous to the Greek phoenix, but only superficially
San Francisco 旧金山 Jiùjīnshān No Old Gold Mountain United States renamed by Chinese immigrants
São Paulo 聖保羅 Shèngbǎoluó Yes N/A Brazil
Seoul 首爾 Shǒu'ěr Yes N/A Korea Seoul (Korean 서울) had no official hanja until 2005, until which 漢城 (Chinese Hànchéng, Korean Hanseong) was widely used. Hanseong was its name during the Joseon era until 1907, although Seoul has been in use since c.1882. 漢城 is still used, both in Chinese, as a transcription for Seoul, and Korean, as an unofficial transcription and as a separate toponym.
Seoul 漢城 Hànchéng No Han river city/large city Korea See above
Toronto 多伦多 Duōlúnduō Yes N/A Canada
Tokyo (東京) 東京 Dōngjīng No East(ern) Capital Japan
Vancouver 温哥华 Wēngēhuá Yes N/A Canada

Nations and regions[edit]

Native name Chinese Pinyin Transcription? Meaning Notes
Canada 加拿大 Jiānádà Yes N/A 加 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Canada"/"Canadian".
France 法国 Fǎguó Yes N/A 法 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "France"/"French".
Germany 德国 Déguó Yes N/A
Iceland 冰島 Bīngdǎo No Ice island
Italy 意大利 Yìdàlì Yes N/A 意 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Italy"/"Italian".
Japan (日本) 日本 Rìběn No sun, origin as Japan is east of China.
Nepal 尼泊尔 Níbó'ěr Yes N/A 尼 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Nepal(ese)".
Spain 西班牙 Xībānyá Yes N/A
Southeast Asia 南洋 Nányáng No Southern ocean
United Kingdom 英国 Yīngguó Yes N/A 英 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Britain"/"British"/"England"/"English".
United States 美国 Měiguó Yes N/A 美 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "America(n)".
Vietnam 越南 Yuènán No Yue, south

Historical exoynms[edit]

Native name Chinese Pinyin Notes
Bactria 大夏 Dàxià
Ferghana 大宛 Dàyuān Middle Chinese reconstructed pronunciation
Japan
Europe 泰西 Tàixī literally "Far West"
India 天竺 Tiānzhú From Indo-Iranian Sindhu
Roman Empire 大秦 Dàqín
Japan